Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011
Tennessee Provided Illegal Extra Benefits

Over the last two weeks, I have referenced that Will Lyles may have provided extra benefits to athletes with whom he had a "mentoring" relationship.

This week Yahoo Sports released details of a specific extra benefit Seastrunk received through Lyles in the form of $1500 worth of plane tickets for he and his mother to visit Tennessee unofficially.

For those unsure, an athlete (football) may not make an official visit to any university prior to his first day of school as a senior in high school. He may visit a campus as many times as he pleases, but must pay for the trip out of his own pocket. The university may not pay for any family member to make a trip with the athlete, this includes both unofficial and official visits.

This most recent revelation is a clear and blatant violation of NCAA rules.

However, there is more here than meets the eye.

Oregon knew about extra benefits

What has not been made public, until now, is that Oregon was aware of the benefits prior to Seastrunk's transfer and had already taken corrective action. According to a source familiar with Seastrunk and the athletic department, Seastrunk was told by Tim Bruegman, Academic Coordinator for Football,  that "in order to be reinstated he [Seastrunk] will have to pay back 2 for 1 for any "improper" benefits provided by rides, meals, etc."

The key word in that statement is 'reinstated.' In order for an athlete to be reinstated, he must first have been ruled ineligible. Oregon knew about the benefits Seastrunk received long before Lyles told the NCAA about them. The Compliance Department had discovered the violations through their own internal investigation and were working with Seastrunk and the NCAA to clear Seastrunk and get him reinstated.

When contacted for statement, the University of Oregon athletic department declined comment. Citing their policy during the current NCAA investigation and FERPA laws in a statement the Oregon Athletic Department said "both NCAA investigation policy and FERPA would prevent the institution from confirming or denying any specifics regarding Lache's eligibility while he was a student here." Sources inside the athletic department did confirm, however, that "NCAA reinstatement guidelines only seek to put student-athletes back in the position they were in prior to receiving the impermissible benefit, not to punish the student-athlete. Therefore, the donation to charity requirement is $1 for $1."

The NCAA has been pretty standard, recently, on the punishment for athletes who accept extra benefits from "mentors." The athlete must pay back the amount of the extra benefits to a charity and serve a four game suspension. Both Sharif Floyd of Florida and Damiere Byrd of South Carolina were given the same initial punishment. Floyd's suspension was later reduced to two games due to extenuating circumstances surrounding his acceptance of money from a mentoring foundation.

The "2-for-1" payback was a misinterpretation of family and friends. NCAA guidelines are clear that the money is to be paid to charity on a  $1 for $1 basis. It appears Oregon was working with Seastrunk to minimize the suspension time and restore his eligibility before his transfer. This would also explain the lack of reps that Seastrunk was receiving in practices leading up to his transfer request.

There was a storm coming

After Seastrunk was granted his release from the University of Oregon, he gave a radio interview in Waco where he mentioned "getting out before the storm."

And, he did get out before the storm. It just was not the storm everyone assumed it would be. Most thought that was a bad omen for Oregon. Looking back, though, with the information we have now, it appears the storm clouds were not necessarily circling around Oregon, but around Will Lyles and any player to whom he had provided benefits.

Had Seastrunk remained at Oregon, the news surrounding the benefits would have swirled around like a tornado devastating everything in its path. Reporters would have swarmed to Eugene like locusts thirsty for more sound bites. Because of an ongoing investigation by the NCAA and an internal investigation by Oregon into the use of recruiting services, there would have rightfully been more attention drawn to Seastrunk in Eugene than Waco, Texas.

Baylor is not facing an NCAA investigation for their relationship with Will Lyles; Oregon is faced with that investigation. Because the Athletic Department and coaches have been instructed to remain silent, the rampant speculation about what extra benefits the University of Oregon may have provided would have been nearly unbearable for Seastrunk and the rest of his team mates.

So, Seastrunk did leave before the storm; it just wasn't the storm some had presumed.

There could be some trepidation amongst Oregon fans (and their rival fans) who might wonder how Oregon could have landed such a highly sought after recruit without resorting to the tactics that Tenessee (and others) used. The truth may lay in what Deanna Carter said to the Portland Tribune in a February 2010 article shortly after Seastrunk submitted his letter of intent to Oregon.

Speaking about Chip Kelly and the rest of the Oregon football coaches “They’re excellent men of character,” Carter told Jason Vondersmith.

Coach Gary Campbell says that Evelyn Seastrunk, who accompanied Lache on several trips including unofficial visits to Tennessee, LSU and USC as well as an official visit to Cal also asked for Oregon to provide funds for her to make the trip to Eugene with Lache.

I know Lache’s mom didn’t come to Oregon and she was pissed at me because we didn’t bring her up here and everything. We couldn’t do it and we told her there was no way that we could bring her in. We didn’t do that and I don’t know what other people did.” 

That might be exactly what Carter was talking about; excellent men of character recruited Lache the right way; no extra benefits; no hundred dollar handshakes and no private "closed-door" meetings with just Lache's mother. Oregon coaches hid nothing from Lache's extended support group which included extended family and his counselors.

In the end, Oregon did exactly what you would expect an athletic department with a strong compliance ethic to do; they discovered violations, ruled the player ineligible and then worked with the player and the NCAA to restore eligibility. Just because they did not publicly out the player does not mean that the university was violating NCAA bylaws; it simply means that they were complying with the NCAA request to not discuss the matter publicly during the investigation.

Take solace in the fact that the University has been attempting to discover and rectify those violations that they may have found in their own internal investigation. Because the payments Seastrunk received were outside of Oregon's control, the Ducks should face no penalty for the benefits Seastrunk did receive.

More importantly, based on this new information, there is also a pretty clear indication that the Ducks athletic department has not attempted to "hide" anything from the NCAA. Had Oregon not immediately ruled Seastrunk ineligible and attempted to cover the tracks of his wrongdoing, they would have fallen in the same hole as Jim Tressell. Instead, the compliance department did exactly what they should have done.

This should bring some comfort to Duck fans.

The Cleaner Effect

Michael Glazier, who many have called "The Cleaner" for his work as a consultant to universities facing NCAA investigations has said he never attempts to help schools "get out of trouble." His goal is not to evade punishment for schools. Instead, he admits to encouraging schools to self-report violations they discover and self-impose sanctions.

When Compliance officials discovered that Seastrunk had received extra benefits, Glazier obligated them to rule the athlete ineligible and work with the NCAA to reinstate the player. That is his modus operandi; his standard operating procedure.

What should be glaringly obvious, to this point, is that Oregon has not self-reported committing any major violations of their own (at least not publicly). Oregon has not publicly self-imposed any sanctions at this point in time yet either. All along, coaches and administrators have been certain that the football program has not committed any major violations.

With the notice of inquiry that the Ducks recently received, many will speculate on the severity of the allegations against the Ducks. At this point, there may be no way to know the answer to that question. However, one thing is fairly certain, whatever the Ducks have discovered or will discover, they have been forthright with the NCAA and taken appropriate corrective actions. That leaves a lot to be positive about. Players who have participated this season we can be reasonably sure have been ruled eligible.

As long as the Athletic Department and coaches remain truthful with the NCAA, Oregon should have little to fear. After all, the rule we tell our children still applies here: the lie is always going to result in more trouble than the original bad act.


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